Have we ever seen a Stanley Cup champion dismantled to the point Chicago was this off-season?
Yes all of the major pieces (Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook) are all still there, but they lost a starting goalie, a playoff hero, and key pieces to the depth that had made them so dangerous last spring.
Now, that experienced depth has been replaced with young, untested questions marks who are hungry to strut their stuff and prove that this team won't be a one-off; that these youngsters can compete just as hard and yield the same kind of results.
One of the favorites to watch because of their Stanley Cup contention last year, Chicago will be a favorite to watch this year just to see them try to stage a title defense on the run. And to see if they meet a few bold (or not so bold) predictions:
1) Marian Hossa scores 50 goals
He's never done it, but he's surrounded with plenty of talent to be able to in Chicago. Last year's pace would only have him scoring 35 in 82 games, but now that he's established himself in Chicago, no one is asking about the Cup, and there's no surgery to be coming off of, Hossa might have one more massive season left.
2) Marty Turco wins 30 games
Because of last year's struggles, everyone seems to forget that Turco was a pretty good goalie before that. He had six-straight seasons of 30+ wins before finishing 22-20-11 in 58 games in 2009-10. Yes he's 35, but the guy can hack it and he'll prove it again this year.
3) Kyle Beach earns respect if nothing else
Beach will be an interesting player to watch: He's confident in his abilities, tough as cement, and while he wouldn't be happy about the AHL, he seems to have a pretty healthy attitude about a potential demotion. Soft hands and scoring touch aside, even if he doesn't light up the rookie leader board, the potential is there for the NHL to take notice of Beach, much like Matt Cooke took notice of Evander Kane. After all, Beach helped delay the start of Mathis Olimb's by fighting him in summer development camp. And he did that to a teammate.
4) Chicago gives up 28 shots a game
This may not seem like much, but it's three extra shots against for a team that led the league, averaging 25.1 against/game last year. In a roundabout way: The youngsters at forward and on defense are given larger responsibilities and while they handle them well, there are still growing pains. That also means the league's second-best differential (+62) falls a bit as well. Again, many will shrug it off, but it makes a difference.
5) Brent Seabrook joins the 200/200 club
What is the 200/200 club? 200 hits and 200 blocked shots in the same year. Since the lockout, four defensemen have done it: Mike Komisarek, Anton Volchenkov, Brendan Witt, and Sean Hill, with the last three doing it in the same year. Andy Sutton came close finishing three hits shy of it last year, and with Seabrook's hits leveling off at around 200 the past two years and the blocked shots going up, he pulls it off.
6) Kane doesn't score 40 but he gets awfully close
Patrick Kane has been gradually bumping up the production in the goal column over his first few years, breaking 30 for the first time last year. Kane (playing at nearly a point-per-game average for his career with 230 points in 244 games) possesses the talent to get it done, but falls short this year, finishing around 37 or 38.
7) Brian Campbell shocks the world and leads the 'Hawks defense in scoring
First of all, please note that yes, I do in fact know that Duncan Keith is on this team too and that he had an outrageous 69 points last year. Putting it lightly, I'm highly skeptical Keith scores that much again, which gives Campbell a chance. After all, this guy is really only known for his contract anymore, and he's been a consistent mid-to-high 40's scorer for the past few years, finishing short with 38 last year, and leading the 'Hawks defense in scoring the year before with 52. Come on...give him a chance!
8) Jonathan Toews finishes with 60 assists
Much like Eric Staal, Toews' totals end up eerily similar in terms of goals and assists at the end of a season, with just a difference of 25 for his career. For a number one centre surrounded by goal-scorers, it's a bit surprising for that to be the rule and not an exception, but one of Toews' biggest assets (outside of, you know, the leadership and two-way play) is his balance. That balance gets thrown a bit out of whack this year though as Toews puts himself in elite helper company.
9) Patrick Sharp becomes a Central Division killer again
Back in 2007-08, Sharp scored 14 goals against Central Division opponents. This year, he bounces back to that level with 15.'Nuff said? I think so.
10) Corey Crawford has a bit of trouble hanging with the big boys
After eight years of playing 40+ games in either the QMJHL or the AHL, Crawford undergoes a bit of a tough transition in the early stages of the season adjusting to life with Marty Turco. Once Crawford gets in waist deep at the NHL level (his eight career games would probably qualify as "wet feet" status) and starts to get comfortable working alongside Turco though, he should have a big second half.
The Stretch: In preparation for the playoffs, Chicago trades back for all of the players they sent away. After winning a second Stanley Cup, they repeat the 2010 off-season in trading those players away again. They also "strategically" forget who Cristobal Huet is during his time in the Swiss league, as his contract "mysteriously" comes off the books.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer for Bleacher Report and also writes over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! You can e-mail Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter: BryanThiel_88.
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